Secretary Mark Scott officially launches the Reconciliation Action Plan

On Thursday, 31 January 2019, Secretary Mark Scott and two members of the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Working Group, Claire Beattie and Darren Bell, launched the department’s first Reconciliation Action Plan for corporate staff. The recording and transcript are available here.

Following is a transcript of Mark, Claire and Darren's conversation. It has been edited slightly for clarity.

Video transcript

Mark Scott

Good afternoon everybody, I'm Mark Scott, Secretary of the New South Wales Department of Education. Joining me today are Claire Beattie and Darren Bell, and they're members of the department's Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group. Can I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. The custodians, the Gadigal people of Eora Nation and pay my respect to Elders past and present, and acknowledge the continuing contribution and connection to this land.

Claire Beattie

I'd like to welcome everyone and acknowledge that no matter where you're meeting today, that you're meeting on Aboriginal land. Always has been, always will be Aboriginal land.

Darren Bell

I'm a Ngunnawal/Yuinman. My family comes from Yass and the south coast of New South Wales. I'd like to pay my respects to our Elders, and our mob and say thank you to them for their continual custodianship of our cultures, our lands and our waterways.

Mark Scott

So let me talk a little bit about what we're up to this afternoon. We're launching the Department of Education's first Reconciliation Action Plan, and it's a plan for our corporate staff. So what we're going to do this afternoon is to talk a little bit about the origins of the plan, why we're doing it, what we hope to achieve from it and what comes next. So I'm really pleased this afternoon to be able to launch the department's first RAP, our first Reconciliation Action Plan, and it talks about our commitment to diversity, to inclusion and to advancing reconciliation. And it gives us some practical steps, some practical actions which are going to drive our contribution to reconciliation.

The focus of this first plan is for our staff who work in corporate offices. Our corporate staff, our corporate officers and the partnerships that we have, and it's going to lay the foundation in the department for reconciliation initiatives and we're going to develop successive plans in the years to come with an increased focus on schools and the communities in which we serve. You can see on the screen there, a copy of this plan which has been developed in consultation with our staff and the broader community, that's going to be the centrepiece of our work in the year ahead.

Let me talk a little bit about the first RAP that we are developing. We've spent a lot of time thinking and talking about this, and it's important to remember that the RAP is an ongoing process for an organisation like us. And it provides us with an opportunity to think about what this is like as a place of work and to challenge ourselves so that we have a deep, rich cultural understanding and cultural insight. It's important that as a department, we have that. Because we want to have deeper insight, deeper understanding deeper commitment and deeper respect.

I was very keen to develop a RAP when I joined the department from my time running the ABC. At the ABC, we'd struggled in a number of areas, I think, in working with our Aboriginal staff, we'd failed to make key targets that we'd set on employment. And the transformational event for us in all these things was the development of the RAP. It gave us some clear targets, it gave us some clear challenges, but it forces us to think about ourselves as an organisation. About what we were like as a place to work, whether we had deep cultural insight, whether we had cultural safety. As we focused on ourselves a bit and the kinds of organisation that we were and what we wanted to be, it was amazing that we started to deliver on all those targets as well.

I found it very powerful, and it was an idea I brought with me to the department. As you'd know, all around the country, major corporations and organisations like us have reconciliation action plans that are developed with Reconciliation Australia to help us reflect and to think about the kind of organisation we are, the kind of organisation we want to be and the kind of outcomes that we want to achieve for the broader community, for the organisation itself and the outcomes that we want to be able to deliver. So I saw that the important part of this plan was to start with us, to reflect on us and to think about the kind of organisation we are and that's the start of this journey.

So what are some measures of success that we've identified in this our first Reconciliation Action Plan? You'll see some of them are up there on your screen. We're focused on employment. We want to exceed the Premier's Priority target for doubling the number of Aboriginal people in senior leadership roles by 2025, and we want to see 3% of senior leadership roles filled by Aboriginal staff. We want to support and increase the number of Aboriginal people working in all positions across our department, and we want to think very creatively and deliberatively as to how we do that, how we make this a great place to work for our Aboriginal staff and how we're providing outstanding professional opportunities to build a great career with us here in the Department of Education.

You know, we're a big and important institution in this state. We're probably the biggest employer in this state, so when we do things, we can make an impact. So we want to be supporting Aboriginal- owned businesses in New South Wales. So we're saying we want to award Aboriginal-owned businesses at least 3% of domestic contracts for goods and services issued by the department by 2021. And when you get a big organisation like us, with the kind of budget we have, that 3%, we think, can make an enormous difference to Aboriginal-owned businesses all around New South Wales.

Finally and very importantly, we recognise our leadership position in this community. So for the department to be focused on national reconciliation makes an impact on the future of this nation as far as national reconciliation is concerned. No organisation is more involved in shaping the future of Australia than the New South Wales Department of Education - 810,000 students in our schools. The largest educator in the country. The future of Australia has been determined by the New South Wales Department of Education. So as we develop this RAP and then roll the activities from future RAPs into schools, what a profound impact we can have on the challenge and the importance of national reconciliation.

We talk a lot about reconciliation, it's there in the plan, we talk about it a lot, but as an Aboriginal man, Darren, what does reconciliation mean to you?

Darren Bell

It means acknowledging past wrongs and actions. Because when you say sorry for something, you never do it again. And that's what I think we need to remember, basically.

Mark Scott

We need to start by that point of reflection. And part of the work that we'll be doing as part of this RAP is reflecting, coming to deeper points of understanding ourselves. And I'll come back and ask you in a minute where future RAPs go on the back of this. Claire, we've run a consultation process to this point. I mean, we had the idea of a brand new RAP, but then went and talked with our staff and talked with stakeholders. Take us through a little bit of what that consultation process has involved.

Claire Beattie

Thank you, Mark. I'm really delighted that over 2,000 of our corporate staff have engaged thus far in our journey in RAP. You've joined us in mass voices like today, thank you for coming, and joining, and listening. You've joined us for cinema events. Some people have joined us for our Aboriginal network events. We've also had discussions via email to the RAP inbox. We've also had surveys.

One of the most interesting parts of this journey was what people said about what they expect to see in the RAP in our statement. You'll notice the RAP statement encompasses all of the feedback we had, and some of the key messages we had was around mutual respect, integrity, cultural safety. So you'll see that featured in the RAP as well.

I'm really proud of the journey we've been on, and I think we've walked really mindfully together, and we've really taken our time with listening and having really honest conversations. So I thank you for coming on this journey. It's not finished yet. As we've said, there's more steps to go. But really, there's over 600 people online right now joining this conversation. So it's really exciting.

Mark Scott

You talk about walking together. Explain that a little bit more. What does that mean?

Claire Beattie

I think it's really important that we've paced this, that we haven't sprinted off in a direction. Everyone is on a different part of their journey for reconciliation. Some people are new to the journey, they've just stepped in. They might not know a lot about Aboriginal culture or the history that we've had with the department. Some people have grown up Aboriginal. Some people believe in reconciliation, some people are sceptical.

We're all at different parts of our journey, so there's no point in sprinting ahead and leaving people behind. We have to be patient, we have to be mindful, we have to have mutual respect and have really open conversations. One of the uncles, Uncle Greg, who's a Darug Elder, actually talks about the reason why pianos have black and white keys, and the reason why they make beautiful music is because you play both black and white keys. So I think it's really important that all of us come together on this journey towards reconciliation.

Mark Scott

So it's a great opportunity, in a sense, to reset the relationship, to come to deeper understanding, establish greater respect and insight, and then to roll that into some really practical steps and strategies so we want to work our way through. We've had some key themes that have emerged through the consultation, and then we roll that into practical steps, because we want this to be a living blueprint. I hope that this RAP becomes really one of the very important documents, a cornerstone document of the Department of Education.

A year ago, we launched the strategic plan. I said, "I wanted that to be a living document", and whenever I go on to schools and talking with school leaders, I'm discussing the strategic plan, and I feel it is a living document, I get it quoted back at me all the time. I want the RAP to be a living document as well, and I want you to be able to read it and to access it, and to think about what you're doing in your corporate office, whereever you work in the department to advance the principles of the RAP and to deliver on the strategies that are outlined.

So let me talk a little bit about the first actions that we're going to have as part of this RAP. The RAP as you will see, is backed up by 12 concrete actions and 52 deliverables that we've identified, and they're centred around four key themes: relationships, respect, opportunities and governance. And with these themes and actions and deliverables and lots of hard work, we really want to see the development of positive two-way relationships based on trust.

We want to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and rights valued and recognised. And we really want to be a great diversified workforce that reflects the communities we serve and is really growing the state's first economy in a very practical and supportive way. In doing all this, we want to continue the important work we do with the AECG. For 40 years or more, the AECG has been an important partner of the Department of Education. They help us grow our insight, and to grow our effectiveness on the ground and working with community, and also helping to serve Aboriginal students and improve their wellbeing and their educational outcomes. In the year ahead, we want to work closely with the AECG to forge a new agreement with them so there can be a pathway to further partnership in the decade ahead.

Darren, we've got this RAP document, and I encourage people to find it, to find it online, to read and think about how we're going  to make it real in the department. What comes next? It's great to have a document, but where does it go from here?

Darren Bell

I think one of our big articles is truth telling. We need to, like I mentioned before, acknowledge  what's happened in the past, and things like that, and ensuring that it doesn't happen again. I think that's a big factor in how we move forward.

Mark Scott

What do you mean by truth telling?

Darren Bell

The department had a policy called the Clean, cut and courteous policy where if a non-Aboriginal family didn't want an Aboriginal student in their school, they can have them removed, basically. And clean, cut and courteous so you had to be, obviously, clean, cut and presentable, and courteous, and not be rude and things like that. So non-Aboriginal family didn't want a student in a class or in the school like that, they could have them removed. That's the sort of thing that not a lot... I'm sure a lot of people watching right now wouldn't know that, and it still affects people who are alive today who had to undergo that policy.

Mark Scott

Including parents and grandparents.

Darren Bell

Absolutely, yeah. That sort of stuff can have quite a long-lasting effect on people, and their self-worth, and all that sort of stuff. So we need to acknowledge that sort of thing, that that actually did happen and this department did implement them at one stage. Thankfully, obviously, they're gone now, but...

Mark Scott

So you've got to deal with that stuff?

Darren Bell

You got to deal with that stuff, yeah. I mean, it's part of the healing process as well, I believe. With this RAP, we've instigated... Well, not instigated, it's a bit of a harsh word, but we've implemented, I should say, a network, an Aboriginal corporate staff network. At that network, we had a barbecue. That was our inaugural type of thing. We had a barbecue last December, and we had our colleagues from all different state offices around Sydney come along. So we made some new friends, met up with some old friends and had some yarns. The yarns were about truth telling and things like that, that's what we need to do, and cultural awareness training for our leaders in the department, so for our managers, and our directors, and our secretaries and dep secs. Hopefully, that would filter down to them bringing it into their teams, and overall, the department would undergo cultural awareness training. Because it's not just about...You need to make the department a culturally safe place to work, and that benefits everyone, I think. So with our next RAP, it's called the Innovate RAP, and that will be developed over the next two years. And we want people to walk with us on that journey. It's a two-way street and we want people to walk with us on that journey.

Mark Scott

So opportunities this year, for cultural awareness training and the executive did do a day and a half of cultural awareness training in partnership with the AECG and with leaders from our schools who came and spoke with us. And I think I can say, for every member of the executive team, it was an absorbing, a fascinating, a challenging and confronting conversation and experience. And I think many of us would have thought, we've done this kind of thing before. I was just amazed at what I learnt from that experience, and the challenges that came on the back of that. To actually use that insight to help make this a great place for all our staff to work. An inclusive place, a supportive place, a place where we can really lead the community and then the responsibility you have to the generations to come who are in our care every day. So we launch this RAP now for the corporate staff. Then the Innovate RAP comes in a year’s time, where the truth telling will be more a feature of that. And then, on we go with more ambitious targets and absolute clarity about the outcomes that we're trying to achieve.

That's the story of this RAP document. I'd encourage you, as I said, to take a look at it. There's beautiful artwork on the front of it. And this is done by a student in one of our schools, Suzanna from Boggabilla Central School. She's from the Gamilaraay Country, and we're having this artwork framed. It will be featured in a prominent place at 105 Phillip Street, our Parramatta office. Some of you have already been online. Excuse me as I reach over to find the tough questions. I'll be answering easy questions.

Mark Scott

These guys will be answering the tough questions. A really good question has come through here about Aboriginal catering companies. Great idea, but where do you start, how do you find an Aboriginal catering company?

Claire Beattie

On the intranet, live at the moment, you'll find the RAP hub. Where it has a lot of FAQs including where to find Aboriginal catering companies, Aboriginal suppliers. It's really important, as Mark said, that we've made a commitment to support Aboriginal businesses. And as we are such a massive organisation and a massive buyer of things, if we did meet that KPI of 3% of buying from Aboriginal businesses, it really would help Aboriginal economic prosperity as well. Please do check out the RAP hub, it's live now.

Mark Scott

And Darren, where do we find more information? If I'm an Aboriginal member of staff and I want to join the network, how do I go about doing that?

Darren Bell

So what we're looking at doing is setting up a little working group in the initial stages. Develop initiatives that we want to involve with our Aboriginal colleagues. We are looking at things like even having a social media page for the network, so people can engage in that way and talk to each other. Which is obviously, find it a lot easier to do it that way. Because I think we need this network especially because I don't know how many of my colleagues are Aboriginal in the department, and especially in 105 Phillip Street. I sent a little broadcast email asking staff to see who's Aboriginal. I've got quite a few responses which I'm really happy about. So we're going to develop this network so we can keep abreast of these sort of things, and contribute ideas for the next RAP.

Mark Scott

And even opportunities, I guess, for staff, they might not be sure that they want to connect with the network or identify, just to even talk through some of those issues with you or other members of staff.

Darren Bell

Absolutely, yeah.

Mark Scott

A question's come through here from Tracy. What does success look like to me, or what does a successful RAP look like?

I think it's multifaceted. Finally, finally... What I really want to do is transform the future of Australia by shaping the lives of the young people that are in our care. One of the things that we all must be desperate to do is to ensure that Aboriginal students in our schools have learning outcomes that are the same as any child in our care.

The gap that currently exists now is untenable, and unacceptable, and is an indictment of what has been offered by this country to young Aboriginal people. So finally, you want to fix that. But you don't just fix that by focusing on that, you've actually got to be the right kind of organisation to do that. And so, I see a reconciliation, I see a cultural safety, I see the kinds of staff we can recruit and keep are all about us being the right kind of organisation to be able to deliver those results that we really fundamentally want.

But we're a leading institution in the country and we should be leading and modelling reconciliation. Modelling being a great place to work. Modelling cultural insight and understanding and achieving extraordinary things for the young Aboriginal people in our care, in our schools. So that's all. That's a long journey, but you start by this kind of process that we got starting now, and we don't rest here, as you've heard, we keep moving, and we keep advancing, and next year, we'll be back with a new plan. Lots of people are asking where they can get cultural awareness training. How are we going to offer that?

Darren Bell

As far as I know, the AECG can help offer it. Like you said, you undertook the training yourself. There are other organisations. I actually see commercials on SBS, how they do it and the company that they use, things like that. But we do have, of course.

Claire Beattie

I invite people to write in into the RAP inbox. If they want to run with cultural awareness training, we've got a whole set of providers from the amazing Mick Gooda's of the world; Flick Ryan, a few others that we do use that have been phenomenal in taking our staff through the journey. And it's an emotional journey, so people have to be ready for that. There is truth telling on that journey, it can be uncomfortable. But at the end of it, it does create a more inclusive, a more welcoming workplace for all of us to come to a mutual understanding. So if you are interested in doing cultural awareness training, please write into the RAP inbox or go to the RAP hub.

Mark Scott

Just a couple more questions, and then, it's going to be cake time. So I'll come to the cake in a minute. Questions come through on the AECG, I did reference them earlier. Has the AECG been involved and consulted on the RAP?

We have reached out to the AECG and briefed them on this process, they wished us well on this, but we look forward to really working closely with the AECG, particularly around a new engagement and a new arrangement with them, a new undertaking with them that takes us through the years ahead. They arevery very important partners in all the work we're doing with Aboriginal students in our schools, and their network is very, very powerful and very important all around the state. Finally, I think this is just a question about... You know, it's an education department. Why aren't schools involved in this process? So where do schools fit in to this work?

Claire Beattie

Eventually, obviously, we will welcome schools into this conversation. I think our corporate area was a great place to start, it's a smaller group, but it's also a group that we can start cultural awareness training without upsetting and taking them off their job which is to be in front of students, making sure every student is known, and valued and cared for. Also, I think it was an opportunity to really engage with executive in the corporate area as well and ensure that we're going from the top-down, it was led by you.

I can also say, Mark, and I hope that we don't embarrass you by saying this, but how amazing it is to have a Secretary come in and say... You've brought it from the ABC with you, but you've also stood in front of this and said, "We must have this” for the reasons that you've just unpacked. For us, I think it's been really refreshing to know that we have your support on this journey, and to know that from the top-down, you're for reconciliation and you really do support the idea of having a culturally safe environment for Aboriginal people.

Mark Scott

And I think that's what we all aspire to, and we know as we do that, it changes us, changes this organisation. And if you change this organisation, you change the future of the country.

Claire Beattie

Absolutely.

Mark Scott

As you said, Darren, this is a torrid, and difficult, and painful history. We need to learn from that, and understand that, and build a wonderful future for our kids and build a better Australia as a consequence of this. So thanks for your time this afternoon. I bring exciting news if you are in one of our larger regional offices, because there is cake there for you, just as there is cake here for us. Wonderful colours and the artwork that Suzanna has done which adorns the RAP is on the cake.

So I'm going to ask my two colleagues here, who have been on the RAP working party, to cut the cake. I also want to thank all members of that working party who worked so hard to wrestle down the complexities of the issues. It's easy for me to say this is an idea, then the hard work starts. I want to thank Meg Montgomery and the team that she led to get us to this point. We're really celebrating the start with the launch of the RAP. They're exciting days ahead, challenges ahead, and hopefully, great outcomes for our kids and our nation as well. So please cut the cake and enjoy your afternoon. Thanks for being with us.

Claire Beattie

Thank you.

Darren Bell

Thank you. Do it together?

Mark Scott

Do it together.

Claire Beattie

Yes. Let's do it. Thanks everyone.

Transcript ends.

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